The largest budget in Pima County history — $2.1 billion — is on the table for next fiscal year, prioritizing raising the minimum wage, lowering property taxes and financing the continued public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the proposal is nearly 50% more than this year’s adopted budget, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said most of the increase is covered by federal grants for COVID-19 relief and not taxpayer dollars.
When the county began the budgeting process last year, uncertainty about the pandemic’s financial impacts caused an onslaught of budgetary reductions. This year, the county has $350 million in federal grants built into the budget for COVID-19-related expenses.
The other expense significantly escalating costs is a $300 million one-time expense to pay down the retirement funds of public safety workers and corrections officers.
The county owes more than $340 million in retirement costs to these workers. According to Huckelberry, the liability accrued due to past pension spiking practices where workers would hold onto unused sick pay and vacation time to boost their salaries at the end of their careers, resulting in an artificially high pension. The practice has since been reigned in by the state legislature.
“The pension liability for our law enforcement has been the fastest growing of any pension plan the county has,” Huckelberry said. “We’re paying for the mistakes of the past now, and the way to minimize that payment is to finance that unfunded liability.”
$15 minimum wage
Huckelberry is also asking the board for $4.3 million annually to raise county employees’ minimum wage to $15 an hour, impacting the pay of nearly 2,000 workers once compression adjustments are made.
The goal is to address the county’s ongoing issues with hiring and retaining qualified employees.
Huckelberry says about 1,800 county employees make below $15 an hour. If adopted by the board, the raises would be factored into paychecks the first pay period after July 1.
Property tax rates
Next year’s combined property tax rates will decrease by about 12 cents per $100 of assessed value, but Huckelberry says most property owners won’t see much of a change in their bills.
The suggested combined county property tax rate for the next fiscal year is $5.1952 per $100 of assessed value, but the value of property that’s used to calculate total property taxes owed increased by about 6% over the past year. This is one of the highest increases in county property values over the past 10 years, Huckelberry said.
The amount one owes in property taxes all depends on the property’s value, however. Metro real estate is booming, and about 1% of the 6% increase was due to new construction.
“Some properties may not have gone up in value. Others may have, and particularly if they’re located in areas where the real estate market is appreciating rapidly,” Huckelberry said. “But on average, they’ll stay about the same.”
The proposed primary tax rate is $3.8764 per $100 of assessed value. While the secondary property taxes for regional flood control and the library district are recommended to remain the same, Huckelberry suggests the debt service secondary tax be reduced by 7 cents.
He says the tax decrease is a “planned contraction” with the county’s pay-as-you-go policy adopted in 2019. Capital projects are now financed from general fund sources on an as-needed basis instead of relying on debt financing.
The idea is to take a percentage of growth in the county’s tax base and use a portion of unneeded taxes to pay off bonds, reducing the property tax rate over time.
Overall, Huckelberry estimates property taxes will generate more than $500 million for the county in fiscal year 2022 — a nearly $18 million increase from this year. This tax levy is estimated to fund 22% of county expenditures.
Other items on the fiscal year 2022 proposed budget include:
$10 million to provide high-quality early child education programs for low-income families. The board approved this funding May 4.
$84 million for 100 miles worth of road repair projects, many within unincorporated Pima County.
$52.9 million in road improvement projects, including the widening of South Houghton Road and a northern section of Kolb Road.
$1.1 million to purchase body-worn cameras for deputies in the sheriff’s department.
The library’s total operating budget of $49 million includes capital projects such as the new Sahuarita Library, expanding the Martha Cooper and Richard Elias–Mission libraries and making exterior and interior improvements.
“The budget that’s presented is balanced. It doesn’t require any significant increases in tax revenues, and it relies on implementing a lot of programs that will be post pandemic, that are federally funded,” Huckelberry said. “We do believe that we’re making dramatic progress to come out of the pandemic.”
The Board of Supervisors will tentatively adopt and set a ceiling for the budget on May 18. Final budget adoption is set for June 22.
Photos: Pima County adds two new libraries
New Pima County Library collection gives a broader view of our shared past
Frank De La Cruz, a community activist and librarian in the Pima County Public Library system, was committed to making sure the library collection reflected the voices and the memory of the community.
When he passed away in 2015, a movement began to recreate a collection that reflected the Chicanx/Mestizo history of the southwest borderlands. The library’s Nuestras Raíces committee, dedicated to celebrating and honoring the culture, voice and linguistic heritage of the Latinx community in Pima County, led the project.
This effort has produced a collection that provides Pima County residents the opportunity to access a broader view of our shared past.
Recently, two publishing industry surveys reiterated what people of color have known for decades — there is a lack of diversity in the book business.
This dearth of representation, coupled with the slanted history taught in schools, results in a generation of young people who view themselves as outcasts. The public library helped me see our country’s history in a way the school system never supported. Even now, the conventional, heavily Eurocentric view of recorded events keeps me and everyone else in the dark — including Americans of European descent.
History books and popular media are consistently conveying a reality that marginalizes those deemed unworthy of recognition by the dominant culture.
Reading about the contributions people of color made, and continue to make, is an empowering experience, not a form of radicalization that the Arizona state government ruled it to be when it banned ethnic study programs in 2010; a ban later overturned in 2017. It seems clear to me now that the deliberate and systematic dismissal of this history is proof enough of its value and power.
Our local youth should have meaningful access to Chicanx/Mestizo history and the understanding that it is just as American as what they will find in their classroom. This is what makes Pima County Library’s Frank De La Cruz Collection essential.
Find more information about the collection at library.pima.gov/frankdelacruz.
Frank De La Cruz, un activista comunitario y bibliotecario de la Biblioteca Pública del Condado Pima se dedicó a que la colección de materias bibliotecarias reflejara las voces y la memoria de la comunidad.
Cuando falleció en el 2015, se empezó un movimiento para recrear una colección que reflejara la historia chicanx/mestiza de la región fronteriza del suroeste. El equipo laboral Nuestras Raíces, un comité dedicado a celebrar y honrar la cultura, voz, y herencia lingüística de la comunidad Latinx en el Condado Pima, dirigió el proyecto.
Esta colección se ha materializado, dando a los residentes del Condado Pima acceso a una perspectiva más amplia de nuestra historia compartida.
Recientemente, dos encuestas de la industria editorial reiteraron lo que personas de color saben desde hace décadas — hay una falta de diversidad dentro de la industria editorial. Esta falta de representación junto al rechazo contra los estudios étnicos resulta en una generación de jóvenes que se perciben como excluidos de la sociedad.
La biblioteca pública me ayudo a ver la historia de nuestro país de una manera del cual nuestro sistema educativo nunca ha apoyado. Aun hoy en día, el punto de vista convencional y primordialmente eurocéntrico de los acontecimientos históricos nos mantiene en la ignorancia, inclusive a aquellos de descendencia anglosajona.
Los libros de historia y medios populares consistentemente presentan una realidad que convierte en marginados los que no son merecedores de reconocimiento por la cultura dominante.
Leer sobre las contribuciones por parte de personas de color y las que continúan logrando es una experiencia fortalecedora. No es una forma de radicalización lo que declaró el estado de Arizona cuando prohibió los estudios étnicos el 2010. Esta prohibición fue anulada por un juez federal en el 2017. Me parece evidente que el rechazo deliberado y sistemático de esta historia escondida es un contundente testimonio de su valor y de su poder.
Esta generación y las que sigan merecen tener un acceso legítimo a la historia chicanx/mestiza y el entendimiento de que es tan valiosa y americana como lo que encontrarán en su salón de clase. Esto es lo esencial de la colección Frank De La Cruz.
Para más información sobre la colección, visite library.pima.gov/frankdelacruz.
— Lu Guerrero trabaja con la Biblioteca del Condado Pima desde el 2007. Guerrero es miembro del equipo laboral Nuestras Raíces y contribuyó a la creación de la Colección Frank De La Cruz
Campaign under way to fund outdoor performance space for Sahuarita library
A campaign is underway to fund an outdoor space for the new Sahuarita Public Library.
The initiative seeks to raise $75,000 for the outdoor performance space, adding 1,000 square feet to the approximately 17,700 square foot facility.
The library, on the northwest corner of Sahuarita Road and Calle Imperial, is expected to be completed next spring.
The outdoor performance space would be the first of its kind in the Pima County Library system, providing a public venue for arts and musical offerings, author readings and other open-air events.
The facility will be used by library patrons and staff, students and community members.
New Vail library to be named after community advocate Anne Gibson
The name of a longtime member and advocate for the Vail community will grace the area’s new library.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 17 approved changing the name of the yet-to-open library from Esmond Station Vail Library to W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library.
Gibson is a well-known community member and a tireless champion for bringing the library to the southeast Tucson community. She is also the president and co-chair of the newly formed organization, Friends of the W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library.
The opening of the new library has not been scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 8,000-9,000- square-foot facility, designed by BWS Architects, will feature a meeting room that opens to the outdoors and movable shelving and furniture to create flexible spaces that can be adjusted to meet the needs of the community. Connected by trailhead to the Esmond Station Regional Park, the building will be within walking distance of Empire High School and Esmond Station K-8.